Students to solve real problems for Defense Department in new Olin course

A new WashU course, Innovation for Defense, will give students a chance to define and solve problems facing the US intelligence community starting in spring.

An inter-disciplinary entrepreneurial course, Innovation for Defense is open to students from McKelvey School of Engineering and Olin Business School. The class (consisting of roughly 10 Olin students and 10 McKelvey students) is co-taught by Doug Villhard, professor of practice in entrepreneurship at Olin, and Peggy Matson, professor of practice, Sever Institute, McKelvey. The course brings together people from the Olin business community and the McKelvey School of Engineering.

Exploring current problems—like moving people and supplies through checkpoints in a secure way, helping pilots quickly acclimate to a variety of aircraft and reducing technology downtime by using IT data to create proactive solutions—will be a driving force behind the student’s learning.

Each class problem has a dedicated sponsor from the Department of Defense who will be regularly engaged with the team. Student teams will learn to use the Lean Startup methodology and Mission Model Canvas, made famous by Stanford University, to iteratively cut through the complexities of these issues.  

The Innovating for Defense course is building on the partnership with the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), and includes the recently awarded National Security Academic Accelerator grant which seeks to launch new ‘dual-use ventures’ from the University’s existing intellectual property.

Jake Laktas, university program director at WashU, representing NSIN says, “This course’s model is unique because it can be an equally valuable learning experience for DoD partners as it is for the students. University problem solvers who are unencumbered by existing thought processes can lend brand new approaches and unique contributions to our nation’s most difficult technology and security challenges.”

It is interesting to note that a student does not have to be a citizen of the United States to take this course and none of the DoD problems are confidential.

“None of these business problems are classified. It is not innovating for war, or something secret; it is innovating for large organizations. It will teach students what the DoD is, how to interact with it, how to support it, and how to ultimately support the economy,” Villhard said. “It’s almost like a mirror of the commercial market when you consider how many different things there are to do within the DoD.”

The course was created to introduce entrepreneurial thinking to students and introduce the concept of interdisciplinary teams. These students will gain hands-on experience that can be useful in any work situation in the future and will look excellent on their resumes. It teaches how to seek out problems, find solutions, and consider monetization.

Find the original post on the Innovation for Defense class, from the Skandalaris Center, here.

Above: Credit, Shutterstock.

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